No Hollywood movie would dare dream up such a spectacle: JAN MOIR admires the pomp and circumstance of a poignant day
The nation’s broadcasters were called upon once more to transmit the melancholy glory of another day in the death of our Queen.
And amid the massing of the military, resplendent in their scarlet and gold, complete with ceremonial trimmings of frogging and ruff, one question burned. How many more last journeys could Elizabeth II make?
‘The Queen will leave for the final time shortly,’ said Anna Botting for Sky News.
‘The Queen will leave Buckingham Palace for the very last time,’ said Chris Ship for ITV.
And even once the journey began, no one was sounding the last post for the last time. ‘Now passing under the great arch for the last time, Queen Elizabeth II,’ solemnly intoned the BBC’s Fergal Keane, sounding for a moment as if he were reporting on the voyage of a cruise ship.
The cortege left Buckingham Palace and headed east, straight towards Alastair Bruce for Sky. ‘The Mall is waiting to embrace the late Queen as she comes down through this canopy of trees for the last time,’ he said
‘The Queen will leave for the final time shortly,’ said Anna Botting for Sky News
He was also thinking of the family members marching behind the coffin. ‘The thoughts of the nation are with the King. And his siblings. And his two sons,’ he added
‘The Queen will leave Buckingham Palace for the very last time,’ said Chris Ship for ITV
Pallbearers carry the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II, adorned with a Royal Standard and the Imperial State Crown, into Westminster Hall
Majestic ceremony: Pallbearers from the Grenadier Guards lift the Queen’s coffin on to a catafalque — a raised platform — in Westminster Hall as sunshine streams through the stained glass window of St Stephen’s Porch
The cortege left Buckingham Palace and headed east, straight towards Alastair Bruce for Sky. ‘The Mall is waiting to embrace the late Queen as she comes down through this canopy of trees for the last time,’ he said.
He was also thinking of the family members marching behind the coffin.
‘The thoughts of the nation are with the King. And his siblings. And his two sons,’ he added.
He was not alone in his concerns. Earlier, ITV’s very own Ship wondered about the mental and physical preparations for the grieving royals. ‘How do we guess what is going through their minds at the moment?’ he said, sympathising with a ‘family about to say goodbye to their mother and grandmother and hand her over to the people’.
How did they cope? In the studio, ITV had Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton to provide some answers. As a former private secretary to the then Cambridges and also to Prince Harry, surely he would know? Of course he did. ‘The duty thing is central to their being,’ he explained crisply. ‘That will see them through it.’
To be fair, it hasn’t always seemed entirely central to the Duke of Sussex’s being.
Still, it was lovely to see Harry back in the bosom of his family, even on this saddest of days. Yet as he marched onwards, his expression inscrutable, I itched to get out the nail scissors and give his tufty mess of a beard a neat trim. What would his grandfather have said!
How did they cope? In the studio, ITV had Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton to provide some answers. As a former private secretary to the then Cambridges and also to Prince Harry, surely he would know? Of course he did. ‘The duty thing is central to their being,’ he explained crisply. ‘That will see them through it’
King Charles III, Anne, Princess Royal, Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, Prince William, Prince of Wales, Prince Andrew, Duke of York, Camilla, Queen Consort, Sir Timothy Laurence, Mr Peter Phillips, Sophie, Countess of Wessex, Catherine, Princess of Wales, Princess Beatrice and Prince Edward, Duke of Kent are seen inside the Palace of Westminster for the Lying-in State of Queen Elizabeth II
Around him, King Charles seemed shattered while the new Prince of Wales never looked more dashing. Anne, Andrew and Edward were just getting on with it, a study in stoic.
Sometimes the cameras roved into the crowds, because Tom Bradby and Julie Etchingham on ITV wanted to know what the ordinary people were doing. Well let’s see. Someone was putting on ChapStick. Most were poring over their phones. A jewellery designer ordered the cameraman to ‘zoom in’ on her earrings.
‘I have come all the way from Kensington. I am a royalist through and through. We all love the Queen,’ she cried.
Tom Bradby looked horrified. ‘It doesn’t matter where you come from, many people have made the journey today,’ he said, typically petrified of anything that smacked of elitism, excluding himself.
As the cortege swung into Horse Guards Parade people clapped — why? ‘Appreciation of the Queen’s life,’ said Fergal Keane, which was good to know. Yet it was to the enormous credit of all these broadcasters and commentators that when it mattered most yesterday, they mainly fell silent.
During an incredible procession such as this, carrying the emotional freight of a nation along with the late Queen herself, amid the magnificent pomp only Britain can produce, words simply were superfluous. The guns firing in the Royal Parks, the muffled drums, the regimented clip of horses’ hooves, the soldiers’ boots ringing out to the rhythm of the funereal music — all of it spoke so eloquently for itself.
And if you had to break the silence, surely you had to have a good reason for doing so? Not always the case.
‘The steady beat of the drums, the metronome of grief,’ chirped Fergal Keane, sounding a bit pleased with himself as the cortege pulled into Parliament Square. ‘Passing the statue of Winston Churchill,’ he added, ‘who had a particularly close bond with the Queen.’
‘A very moving afternoon, dignified and solemn, some uplifting moments, too,’ said Huw Edwards for the BBC. Pictured: King Charles III, Camilla, Queen Consort and Princess Anne, Princess Royal follow pallbearers carry the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II into Westminster Hall
He was right. Though it would have been a bit more dignified if Harry and Meghan (back-left) had managed to resist the urge to hold hands in front of the Queen as she lay in state in Westminster Hall
From leaving the Palace, to the guards taking their place on the catafalque, to Queen Consort Camilla casting a concerned, wifely look at Charles as they headed back to their car, the whole event had taken only one hour, yet so much had happened.
What a superb assembly, what a magnificent creation it all was. No theatre production could ever emulate such an occasion, nor do it justice. No Hollywood movie could ever dream this big, while few actors could deal with the extraordinary pressure of such extreme public exposure, knowing that there would be no second take if things went wrong.
I mention this because in the past, the Duchess of Sussex has been understandably confused by the difference between celebrity and monarchy. After being involved in such an occasion, complete with an elegant curtsey to a Queen she barely knew, surely now she can be in no doubt about the distinction?
‘A very moving afternoon, dignified and solemn, some uplifting moments, too,’ said Huw Edwards for the BBC. He was right. Though it would have been a bit more dignified if Harry and Meghan had managed to resist the urge to hold hands in front of the Queen as she lay in state in Westminster Hall. Still, everyone did their best. Meanwhile, the Royal Family and the nation are bound together in this uneasy time familiar to the bereaved everywhere; caught between the death and the funeral, the goodbye and the burial.
Yet the respect and the love pouring out for the Queen over these past days, both on the airways and in the streets, says something about who we are and what is important to us in the sweep of history.
Dust to dust, monarch to monarch. Onwards we go to the real last journey and the final toll of the bell on Monday.
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